BBWF Day Three: Competing with “they who shall not be named”

The first day’s keynotes saw one angry punter question why no content or application providers had been invited to the Broadband World Forum. Not an entirely fair accusation, given that a Google Exec was scheduled to speak (although Paris’ transport strikes eventually put paid to his appearance).

But even though they were not exactly front and centre at the event, Apple and Google were the talk of the Broadband World Forum, during the coffee breaks at least.

Sentiment from operators and vendors towards “they who shall not be named” ranges from mild suspicion to outright fear. But Informa has long held the view that, while OTT players should certainly not be underestimated, operators have the tools in their arsenal to combat the dual threat from Goo-ple and their ilk.

Some interesting strategies for doing this were laid out in the “Rise of Broadband over TV” stream. SK Broadband in Korea, facing the dual threat of massive competition from cable and OTT providers, has opened its platform to third parties, allowing them to create applications and video services for their platform. It’s a laudable plan, albeit one that has a touch of the last chance saloon about it. One also feels that the devil will be in the detail; most notably, whether SK Broadband takes a shadowy, Apple-style approach to validating apps.

Telstra’s T-Box service, a hybrid set-top box combining DTT and IP content – all delivered over the top – continues to impress, and today’s audience had the chance to learn more about the service from Telstra’s CTO, Hugh Bradlow. Central to managing the service is that Telstra has built its own CDN which is helping to support the service. This, claimed Bradlow, allows the operators to create more points of presence than an existing CDN provider would be able to provide (crucial for a large country such as Australia where, as Bradlow pointed out, latency between two cities such as Sydney and Perth is a big problem).

I pointed out that many operators are not in the position to build their own CDN, and asked whether the circumstances that have led Telstra to embrace OTT were unique to them or not. Bradlow made a convincing case for other operators to follow a similar strategy, but perhaps the one factor that makes the case unique to Telstra is not down to technology, or even finance, but regulation. All Australian ISPs offer metered broadband services, but traffic created by Telstra’s T-Box customers is unmetered. Telstra could argue that the differences between its own TV service and a managed TV service are merely semantic. But in other parts of the world, where net neutrality is a greater and more political issue, operators are unlikely to have this luxury.


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